Less than two weeks after retiring due to being stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), “The Iron Horse” delivered the greatest speech in sports history in front of 61,808 fans on “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939.
The seven-time All-Star and two-time American League Most Valuable Player, who ended his streak “for the good of the team” on May 2, succumbed to the disease at the age of 37 on June 2, 1941.
Fortunately, and somewhat miraculously, a weak and visibly shaken Gehrig, while wiping tears from his face with a handkerchief, managed to offer the below farewell address that was rated No. 73 on the list of top 100 American speeches of the 20th century:
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
Upon conclusion of the fabled speech, the touched crowd at East 161st and River Avenue in the Bronx applauded “The Iron Horse” for two minutes and chanted “We love you, Lou.”
The six-time World Series champion, who personified class both on the diamond and in the streets of everyday life, was a remarkable man and “a blessing” to the world of athletics.
73 years later, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” to have read Lou Gehrig’s brilliant, and immortal, 277 words.by